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Running Effective Meetings
Procedures and Important Skills

There are a number of structures you can put in place to maintain your organisation so it is efficient and achieves what it sets out to do. All of these emphasis the need for:

  • a sound knowledge and appreciation of the skills and responsibilities of the roles of committee/Board and managers of the organisation;
  • mutual respect;
  • clearly defined goals and objectives;
  • clearly defined boundaries; and
  • open and effective communication channels.

Effective Meetings

Regular, effective, face to face communications are essential for building and maintaining successful community organisations. Meetings may be held informally or can be run according to a set of formal rules (each has its merits), and the influence of the facilitator /person chairing the meeting makes a big difference: well run meetings produce results.

Before the Meeting

Effective meetings are planned in advance. Successful meeting organisers make sure that:

  • the reason for members meeting face to face is clear;
  • members have been invited well in advance;
  • objectives for the meeting have been communicated and understood;
  • any reports and/or background papers/finance statements about which decisions need to be made are circulated before the meeting so it can be read and digested;
  • (if appropriate) members have been reminded about any jobs that should be completed by the time of the meeting;
  • the physical environment is prepared beforehand (check for warmth, fresh air, light, appropriate seating arrangements);
  • appropriate visual aids - whiteboards, markers, blu-tack, sheets of paper, recording equipment, overhead projectors etc are in place;
  • other resources needed for the meeting have been collected;
  • any displays are assembled;
  • there is an agenda;
  • the chair/facilitator knows they will be taking on that role; and
  • the minute taker also knows they are responsible for taking the minutes.

At the Meeting

The chair/facilitator will:

  • make sure the meeting starts on time;
  • know whether it is appropriate to begin with a prayer (particularly if the group is Maori, Pacific Island or church based);
  • be aware that people of different cultures may follow different time scales, and if there are latecomers, welcome them, give them a moment to settle, then tell them what the group is doing;
  • welcome members and organise any introductions;
  • list any ground rules that have been developed by the members, e.g. agreements about confidentiality of discussion/one person speaking at a time;
  • read and call for apologies;
  • where appropriate advise of housekeeping details e.g. time and length of meeting breaks, location of toilet facilities etc;
  • set a time frame for the meeting, and work to keep to it;
  • keep to the agenda;
  • thank everyone for attending the meeting;
  • where appropriate, end with a prayer or song; and
  • check after the meeting that the room is returned to the state it was in prior to the meeting (includes cleaning whiteboards).

Sample Ground Rules Checklist

Ground rules should be developed by the group which will be bound by them. These rules should cover:

  • respect for other people: no interrupting, no long monologues, no personal abuse, allow space for everybody to express their views;
  • confidentiality: agreement on whether meeting content shall be discussed outside the meeting;
  • responsibility: everybody agrees to take responsibility for timekeeping, keeping to the agenda and voicing their opinions in the meeting rather than afterwards;
  • physical comfort: agreement needs to be reached about whether smoking is permissible or whether breaks can be negotiated; and
  • decision-making: how are decisions to be made, by consensus or voting. If consensus can't be achieved at what point will alternative decisionmaking methods be used and who will decide?

After the Meeting

  • action plans and follow ups are confirmed;
  • minutes are checked by the chair/facilitator and the minute taker;
  • the time frame for circulation of minutes, new reports, background papers, and the next agenda is arranged; and
  • minutes are then circulated (sometimes on their own, sometimes not long before the next meeting when reports and background papers called for at the meeting can go out at the same time).

Community Group Facilitation

"Effective group facilitation is an artful dance requiring rigorous discipline. The role of the facilitator offers an opportunity to dance with life on the edge of the sword - to be present and aware - to be with and for people in a way that cuts through to what enhances and fulfils life. A good facilitator is a peaceful warrior". Dale Hunter, Anne Bailey, and Bill Taylor of Zenergy Group

Facilitation has long been a part of the community group process. These days it is also being considered at government, local government and industry level, to help groups resolve problems they are facing, and ensure that people have the opportunity to express their view and be a part of the decision making process.

Each kind of facilitation has its distinctive characteristics and language (for example, in industry we talk about a using a "multi-stakeholder process" to include people in decision making - a term not generally used at the community group level), and each can result in exciting and innovative solutions to the problems identified.

Competent facilitation empowers people to develop their own solutions to perceived threats and issues. The facilitator makes sure that issues are discussed in the most satisfactory and productive way possible, and guides the group through co-operative processes, including collective decision-making, so that the people involved can carry out their purpose as easily and as productively as possible.

On the face of it facilitation looks easy - in reality, it is a highly developed skill requiring patience, perseverance - and courage.

Characteristics of Good Facilitators

Good facilitators:

  • have the confidence of the community with which they are working;
  • are aware of the different sections within that community;
  • are aware of protocols of different cultures;
  • can communicate cross-culturally;
  • understand the groups members' strengths;
  • have a good working knowledge of the subject under discussion/the issues facing the group; but
  • presents a neutral position on the issues being discussed;
  • deal with how things are done (the process), rather than with what is done (the content);
  • value as relevant, everything that happens at the meeting, and everyone who attends it;
  • enable everyone to have the opportunity to express their view;
  • trust the ability of the group to work through processes and achieve its task;
  • trust themselves to do the job well;
  • believe that the value of the group is greater than the sum of its parts;
  • keep the meeting purpose in mind at all times;
  • get the job done, and done on time;.
  • are comfortable with conflict and conflict resolution;
  • act naturally and openly;
  • are enthusiastic;
  • can stimulate discussion;
  • can laugh at themselves and with others;
  • support, guide and inform members and involve them in decision making;
  • act on decisions that have been made;
  • do not dominate proceedings;
  • do not allow interruptions;
  • keep members to the agenda,
  • know whether a decision is a routine or a strategic decision;
  • know which decisions relate to governance (policy making) and which to management of the organisation;
  • whether decisions will be by majority vote or consensus; and
  • who may vote at the meeting.

Communication Skills

Facilitators are "super-communicators" who use skills such as:

  • listening - and being aware of personal listening faults/self listening;
  • ability to speak openly, e.g. be able to say "I don't know";
  • attending - to what is happening to themselves as well as to others;
  • reflecting/summarising - checking back on what has been said earlier;
  • drawing out - using open questions;
  • problem solving;
  • acknowledging and affirming;
  • summarising;
  • negotiating and contracting;
  • using humour (especially when things are getting a little tense);
  • using silence - allowing for reflection/learning;
  • reviewing - offering a final overview of what has been said and decided;
  • giving and receiving constructive feedback; and
  • seeking agreement.

At meetings the facilitator will:

  • check the group's expectations of the facilitator, and address any significant differences between the expectations of the group and of the facilitator;
  • deal with how things are done (the process) rather than with what is done (the tasks);
  • set the scene for the group to work out ways of dealing with the tasks/the problems;
  • think critically: identify and name blocks or problems in the group process;
  • be adaptable and choose what direction to take at a particular moment;
  • enable the group to set targets, and make sure that everyone knows what, when and how things are to be done; and
  • enable participants to evaluate the meeting.

Aspects of Active Listening

  • Use of non-verbal cues: this is the skill of using non-verbal cues to show you are listening. By using your usual body language of nods, smiles, attentiveness, sounds such as "uh-huh", etc., you show the speaker that you are attending.
  • Concentration: this is the skill of focusing on the speaker and interacting to draw them out. Steps: focus fully on the speaker; avoid re-focusing attention on yourself; draw the speaker out as necessary; use expressions of interest, open questions and directives to keep the speaker focused on their theme and help them have their say.
  • Suspending judgement: if you have critical or negative thoughts about the speaker or what they are saying, put these aside for the duration of the discussion.
  • Giving feedback: giving feedback to the speaker is both helpful and an indication of how fully you are listening. Steps: summarise briefly the main points of what they said; describe voice tone, breathing, indicators of feelings; describe facial expression, body position and body movement. You can give feedback in any order so long as it is constructive and you affirm and support the speaker.
  • Paraphrasing: at points during the conversation it is helpful to briefly paraphrase your understanding of what the other person has said. This enables you to check out that you clearly understand what is being said to you.

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